7 Steps to Thinking Strategically in the Moment

Have you ever said something you wished later you hadn’t?

It was a quick response, they needed a decision now — or thought they did — so you fired off an answer. Looking back now — you might have answered differently with more information or time to process.

Happens all the time.

What the leader says can negatively impact other people or the organization. Good leaders have to learn to think strategically — even when making quick decisions.

Most leaders make hundreds of decisions a day and many of those require very little thought. If a leader is asked a question or has to make a decision where an answer has already been clearly defined, then the leader can move quickly. When the issue, however, has an undetermined solution, especially if the decision could alter the direction of the organization, impact other people or require a change in the organization’s finances, then the leader needs to learn to think strategically in the moment.

How do we make strategic decisions quickly? How can we make the best decisions in the shortest amount of time?

Here are 7 tips for a leader to think strategically in the moment:

Pray

I think we have devalued the short, urgent, sudden prayer. (I love to pray Psalm 69:1.) I don’t think God does. I think He responds to the prayers of His people. “If any of you lacks wisdom…”, James reminds us. Getting into the practice of sentence prayers invites God’s gentleman Spirit to join you in the decision-making process. And, I’m not devaluing the human mind or experience. I think God wants us to think. But, remember, this post is addressing making quick, important decisions strategically — decisions I’ve possibly never made before. I don’t want to make those on my own.

Take notes

I always take notes while listening. This allows me to see the situation in writing while I think through a response. If I’m not certain I understand the situation, seeing my notes allows me to ask for further clarification. If I’m in my office, I have a huge painted dry-erase wall. I may diagram different scenarios of the answer. If taking notes is not an option and the answer is not definite — I always postpone the answer. This helps me avoid making major decisions on the run.

Listen intently

This is a problem for some leaders — especially busy, highly creative leaders. It’s one I struggle with personally. Many leaders (this one included) have problems with details. Accustomed to making quick and many decisions, leaders often try to solve an issue on the spot rather than have to deal with it later. This is a great approach for the issues that have a defined solution already, but if it’s committing to something that hasn’t been decided yet, it could be dangerous. I try to listen for enough details to make a wise decision, but if I know I can’t make a quick decision based on the information I have time to hear, then I delay making one.

Think “NEXT”

This is really formed by habit, but it involves training yourself to always ask the question,”How will this decision impact other people and the organization?” If I am uncertain, I know it is be best to delay deciding on the issue until I can give it adequate time for consideration. Many leaders make decisions that others have to live with because they didn’t take time to think through the best answer. Thinking “NEXT” means I am thinking of the repercussions, which will come “next” after the decision is made.

Discipline Mouth

“Keeping a tight reign” on your tongue is actually a Biblical concept. Part of spiritual and personal growth is to mature in the area of what a leader says. The more responsibility a leader receives the more critical it becomes that he or she practice discipline with their words. This is a continuous work in progress for me, but over the years I have learned to hold my tongue until I have thought through a response.

Invite input

“Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22) One of my favorite questions is, “What would you do?” I ask the person asking for a decision from me. I ask others on our team. I’m not afraid to pause and phone a friend. I ask my wife. I ask the people who have to live with the answer. The more time we have for an answer the more people I’m likely to ask.

Value Waiting

Waiting is never a bad idea if it leads to a better decision. I realize time is of the essence in most decisions these days – especially in an organizational sense, but equally important is protecting the vision, the morale of the team or the organization’s future. Plus, I have learned by experience there is a value in caged momentum — making people wait for the best time to give the best answer. Obviously there is an opportunity cost of waiting too long. The leader should not be a bottleneck as people wait for an answer. And, the leader should empower people to make the majority of decisions. But, when the answer has huge implications the leader should not be afraid to say, “give me a few minutes (or some reasonable amount of time) to process.”

There are a few of my thoughts on thinking strategically in the moment. Leaders, the better decisions we make the better our organizations will be. Let’s be strategic.

Could this be a discipline you need to practice?

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28 thoughts on “7 Steps to Thinking Strategically in the Moment

  1. This is a great and very useful post. Thank you, Ron! Just looking back I realize that there are quite a few situations when I might have (or definitely) answered differently if I had time to process the facts. I really like the idea of taking notes, especially when you have several ideas that can alter your decision. Time can be on your side if you know how to use if effectively, or when to ask for more.

    • I'm a little late to this party, but wanted to thank you for sharing your perspective on this. I think you captured the struggle well…as a leader I'd rather deal with something NOW instead of LATER. This causes me too often to react without thinking things through fully. I'm learning, instead of reacting, to RESPOND thoughtfully.
      Kenny, I've discovered the same thing about my decisions, and that's why I want to learn to be a better steward of my influence and leadership. Thanks.

  2. I find that my worst decisions are the ones that I make in the spur of the moment, when I perceive an urgency that usually doesn't exist. In eagerness and ambition, I used to make that mistake more often than i'd like to admit. When I actually slow down to consider the options and the potential outcomes of my decisions; when I think NEXT, I do much better.

  3. Great insight, Ron. Taking time to think "NEXT" and waiting for the best possible answer is so key. Sometimes I tend to rush decisions just to get through them, but I find the more I wait–as you suggest–the better the response is. In the case of emails, after waiting, I've decided that a phone call is best. Or sometimes no response at all. I've never regretted waiting… but I frequently regret knee-jerk decisions. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. What a wonderful admonition.
    Apostle Paul also tells us in the Holy Bilble that we should "Be quick to hear,slow to speak and slow to be angry"

    Thank you for reminding us of this tried and tested approach. Justice Ofori-Elikem

  5. The last two points resonate most with me. As a man and a "problem-solver", my knee-jerk reaction tends to be to provide a solution to a problem. I even feel a weight upon myself to have an answer when someone comes to me. However like you said, keeping your words in check is a Biblical concept. Great post!

  6. Thanks for the post Ron. Having made my way in the world mostly with my courage to make quick decisions ( a habit formed in the Marines), I now see the struggle that this can create. The point about note taking is a powerful one for those of us prone to shooting from the hip. Felling like my ability to quickly assess a situation and then make a quick decision, keeps me from wanting to do the five things you mention, but these are exactly the things I need to improve on. Thanks for the great post.

  7. Thanks Ron. Great way to start my Monday in the corporate world. I’m an avid note taker and agree that this helps me to slow down and listen– it also demonstrates to the other person that their words are valuable. Good reminders!

    • Thanks. The key is to always keep something handy where you can easily take notes. (Bring something to the meeting!)
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

  8. Great post Ron! Thanks for the insight… I also fall to the trap of making quick decision with taking the time to think about it first. This has gotten me in trouble a time or two! Thanks for your encouragement!